LA CROSSE, Wis. (WXOW) - Most boaters, like Kirk Donskey, this season recognized the low river levels, especially when it came to more sandbar activity and less accessibility to marshy areas. Yet, the low river levels did not stop those that wanted to hit the waterways.
Dry summer conditions allowed for ample river days. But it also created drought conditions across much of the Midwest and the continent. Even with the lack of rain, our river was never impassable due to the lock and dam system.
"These structures are used primarily today for commercial but also private individual recreation" states Dan Fasching a hydraulic engineer for the U. S. Army Corps in St. Paul. "All of that (river use) would be very very difficult if the river was maybe 2 or 3 feet in-depth and that might have been the case this last year especially -- and that's what the dams are for, they are for those low flow years."
Locks and dams are in place from St. Paul through St. Louis dropping 400 feet. The locks and dams are able to control how much water is exchanged to allow for continued navigation. This was important when locks and dams were first implemented because the Mississippi River acted as a highway.
One important fact to remember about these lock and dam systems is that they do NOT help when it floods. They help keep the water high enough for navigation in drought conditions. However, during high river season, the gates are able to open to create a more natural river flow.
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